Posts Tagged ‘pest control’

Pesticide Fear Mongering continues on social media

Two headlines are traveling the social media circuit recently that continue to use non-scientific evaluations of pesticide use to try to shape the cultural myth that pesticides are inherently bad for everyone. The first one is the continued publication by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) of their so called Dirty Dozen list, a list that supposedly warns consumers of the produce with the highest pesticide residues. This list has been debunked by peer reviewed analysis to show that the methodology they use to rank the selected produce has no scientific backing. Even the very report the EWG says it uses to generate the data for their list, the USDA Pesticide Data Program (PDP,) states that the “… summary shows that, overall, pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and do not pose risk to consumers’ health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that pesticide resi220px-Warning2Pesticidesdues pose no risk of concern for infants and children.” Nutritional experts continue to say that increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetable decreases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. This includes a recent study titled UCL study finds new evidence linking fruit and vegetable consumption with lower mortality. Studies have shown that conventional and organic produce have the same healthy outcomes for consumers. Why does the EWG continue to scare consumers away from healthy food choices? Because it fits the narrative they want to promote. They do not seem to care that studies are finding that their scare tactic are doing more harm than good, especially for low income shoppers who have far few food choices than other income groups.

The second is an article titled “UN experts denounce ‘myth’- pesticides are necessary to feed the world” published by The Guardian and picked up by a number of anti-pesticide activist sites. This report is yet another “white paper” put out as a UN source that is nothing more than an opinion piece. It doesn’t even quote or review any of the official UN FAO or scientific literature from any UN committees. It continues in the same way as the EWG piece, to come to a conclusion first and work backwards, using cherry picked peer reviewed studies, to find information to justify the headline. In his evaluation of the article, David Zaruk, an EU science communication specialists writes “The “Pesticides are a myth” report has no authors and was submitted in the name of a rapporteur who has no experience in agriculture. And the Guardian published an article without any interest in analyzing its foundations or sources – just quotes the “UN report”. It doesn’t look at the FAO or basic science.” Lumping all pesticides and all farming types into a story trying to say that the benefits of pesticides are a “myth” just doesn’t explore in depth the vast literature available that is contrary to the thesis of the article. The article even draws conclusions that are contrary to the sources it cites. “It is a myth,” said Hilal Elver, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food. “Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.”
In a Facebook discussion digging into the articles references one commenter says, “Production is increasing because pesticides have enabled it. Their references don’t back their claims.” He then goes on to detail the conflicts in many of the cited reference and what the article is saying.

Fear of pesticides has been around a long time. Even before Racheal Carson’s “Silent Spring” people were questioning their wide spread use in farming. But questioning their use and using science to find out what the problems were and how to fix them has only strengthened the crop protection industry. Now trained professionals with expertise in Integrated Pest Management have the tools to carefully evaluate and choose the right crop protection product needed and have the information to evaluate and mediate health and environmental concerns. That knowledge is growing all the time. ‘Of course, there are always risks associated with using such chemicals, but the answer is to heavily regulate the industry and increase transparency, not to ban their use. The scientific evidence time and again demonstrates the benefits for using pesticides far outweighs the risks.’ – Professor Kathleen Lewis, Professor of Agricultural Chemistry at University of Hertfordshire’s Department of Human and Environmental Sciences (HES) and Research Leader for the Agriculture and Environment Research Unit (AERU). Crop protection tools are getting better all the time. They are becoming more environmentally friendly and safer for workers. New technologies are developing products that are more selective, targeting the pest and leaving other flora and fauna in our fields intact.

It is important for those in the agricultural industry to speak up and tell the truth about pesticides and their use so that the continued mantra of the “evil pesticide” is not the narrative that sticks in the minds of our consumers. People are susceptible to fear on topics they know very little about. Those of us that have the expertise on these matters should keep ourselves informed and be willing to engage people in conversations that will help educate and ease people’s fears. Acknowledge the reality of their fears and do not use scorn to put them down as that only further entrenches them in their position. Once you understand why they have the fears they do you can then empathize and tailor your response in a why they will be more accepting to the information.

Further reading:

Is Conventional Produce Dirty? No, But the Marketing Tactics Of Big Organic Are

Anti-Ag U.N. Report Written by Attorneys Argues for Big Ag

3 Reasons The EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” Is Still a Dirty Lie

The Perils of Anti-Pesticide Hysteria

For the Benefit of Consumers, It’s Time to Promote Positive, Reassuring Information

No, The UN Did Not Dismiss Pesticides as Unnecessary

Foreign Invasion threat to farming

Creeping MenaceForeign terrorists have been invading our farms and environment for a long time. These terrorists are called Invasive species. An invasive species is a plant or animal that is not native to a specific location (an introduced species); and has a tendency to spread, which is believed to cause damage to the environment, human economy and/or human health. Species that are moved or migrate to an area where they have not been to before can disrupt the ecology of an area because the native species have not evolved to interact with the newcomer. There may be no natural predators to keep the new species in check or the new species may find a food source that has no defense against the newcomer. There are invasive pests that have invaded our forests, waterways, homes and fields.

The following are just a few I’ve chosen to highlight from the USDA APHIS Hungry Pest website:

gypsy moth“The Asian gypsy moth (AGM) is a destructive, non-native pest that feeds on over 600 types of plants. Large infestations of AGM can completely defoliate trees, leaving them weak and more susceptible to disease or attack by other insects. If defoliation is repeated for two or more years, it can lead to the death of large sections of forests, orchards, and landscaping.” Not only damaging our forests but our landscaping in our cities.

Imported Fire Ants are nasty pests. If you have run into these and have been attacked, you’ll know why. They also damage crops and attack livestock.

giant-snailGiant African Snail is one of the most damaging snails in the world because it consumes at least 500 types of plants and can cause structural damage to plaster and stucco structures. This snail can also carry a parasitic nematode that can lead to meningitis in humans.

Some of these pest have been here a long time and have become “established”. The Asian Tiger Mosquito arrived a long time ago, hitching a ride in some imported tires from China. This mosquito carries West Nile Virus (Link for more on West Nile Virus for WebMD). West Nile virus infects humans and horses. Invasive mosquitoes are also carrying yellow fever, Dengue fever and chikungunya fever.

HydrillaInvasive plants can cause problems as well. Hydrilla is an aquatic plant that invaded Florida and has spread across the country. It is an aggressive plant that out competes native aquatic species and destroys native aquatic ecosystems.

What are some of the more important invasive species that agriculture has to deal with? There are quite a few. First I’ll cover a few that directly impact the crops and then I’ll explain some other ways invasive pest cause problems for agriculture.

Let’s start with one that is something I’m dealing with directly, the Asian citrus psyllid. This pest feeds on the new leaf growth of citrus trees cause the leaves to twist and die back. They are not a particularly difficult insect to control. The biggest problem with this pest is that it can, if infected, transmit a bacteria that causes Huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening) disease.

Citrus GreeningHuanglongbing causes shoots to yellow, asymmetrically (blotchy mottle), and results in asymmetrically shaped fruit with aborted seeds and bitter juice. The disease can kill a citrus tree within 5 to 8 years, and there is no known cure for the disease.This has already devastated the citrus industry in Florida. It has spread to California, first detected in the Los Angeles area. Even with strict regulations in place about moving citrus trees (the pest does not get on the fruit) it still managed to move from Florida to LA and now up into California’s central valley, the largest citrus growing area in the state.Until just a few months ago none of the psylids found were infected with HLB. Quarantines are in place around areas where the psylids have been caught and this means a lot of extra work if you have to move your fruit to a packing house outside of the area. This includes, but not limited to, spraying pesticides before each pick. A farmer may go through and pick many times before all the fruit is harvested.

BMSBAnother invasive pest headed my way but not yet here is the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB). It “has been detected in California. Wherever BMSB takes up residence, it causes severe crop and garden losses and becomes a nuisance to people. The ability of BMSB to hitchhike in vehicles and planes has allowed it to spread rapidly to new areas. Since it was introduced to the United States from Asia in the 1990s, BMSB has become established in the mid-Atlantic states as well as in Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles”. (from UCIPM website). This pest has recently been found in large numbers in the Sacramento area and has been found Stockton. A number of other native stink bugs are pests in agriculture  They are not easy to control and usually require harsher pesticides to get rid of them. The BMSB has been found to be very hard to control and will definitely be a big impact to our IPM programs as they infest a large number of crops.

These are just two but there are many. Many that have come into California and many that are being tracked for possible entry. You can see a pretty comprehensive list for California here

But other countries are watching us as well and they have their own lists and things they do not want us introducing into their environments. This creates issues for farmers because the packers and shippers must ensure what they are exporting comply with the importing countries regulations concerning these pests. Following is a summary of a few of our pests that we have to take extra measures to control and monitor, and why, in some cases, this causes a problem in our IPM programs.

The Oriental Fruit Moth is a common pest that mainly infests stone fruit (Peaches, Nectarines, Plums, etc). Mexico does not have this pest (or so they claim) so they do not want any fruit coming across the border that may have any of this pest in it. Growers and Packers who want to ship fruit to Mexico must pay into a program for extra monitoring for this pest. This includes paying for inspectors for Mexico to be on site during the growing and harvest season, increased trap density and the costs to have people check these traps more frequently than on a non export field, Since you are not allowed to have ANY of this pest in your fruit you need to make sure you spray every hatch (one a month) even if your trap catches do not indicate a serious infestation. Any trap catches and you are required to spray and you can’t use any of the newer more environmentally friendly products because Mexico doesn’t think they work as well. You really can’t have a good IPM program with someone else dictating what you have to do.

fuller rose beetleFuller Rose beetle is a pest that will lay it’s eggs on citrus fruit, under the stem and can be hard to find. South Korea doesn’t want it. Even if you don’t have it in your fields you are required by the packers to spray at least once before harvest. The citrus industry exports a lot of product and there are other spray programs that are dictated more for appeasing the export markets than for what is going on in the field.

A few years back we had an outbreak of European Grapevine Moth that had hitched a ride on some smuggled grapevines from France over to Napa. They hung out in the Napa area, slowly building populations before someone noticed these were not our common type of worm generally found. Napa doesn’t normally have a big problem with worm pests and this one was causing a lot of problems especially for organic growers. Then it moved. Someone brought infested wood down to Fresno and then the export of table grapes came to a halt. For me, it was just another worm pest that was easily dealt with in my current program but in order to satisfy export markets areas with the pest were quarantined and when and what to spray was dictated by the USDA. No one in those areas could ship out of the US and the industry lost a lot of money.

Spotted Wing Drosophila is a fruit fly that, unlike many of our native fruit flies, will attack undamaged fruit and has many generations in a short period of time. They infest cherries and berries mainly. Also a pest we have to spray for even if we don’t see it because one fly can cause the whole field to be kicked out of an export program.

How do these pest move around? Well, mostly by human activity but also changing climate patterns are opening up new habitats in locations where these pests can move to as well. I mentioned that the European Grapevine moth came in by way of some grapevine cuttings that were transported from France to Napa. They did not go through legal import procedures, otherwise the pests would have been detected. Plants and fruit travel to and from places all the time but if they go through airports or border stations, they can generally be intercepted. But it they do not, hitchhiking pests are never far. This local story is about smuggled fruit being sold by roadside vendors and some had invasive pests on them.

We can all help in the fight against these pests. The USDA’s Hungry Pest website has good information on “What Can You Do“.

How pest control decisions are made with sustainable farming practices.

Responsible farmers use pest control products responsibility. When walking through a farm field or orchard there is a lot going on that isn’t always obvious to the untrained eye. It is a living system and in order to keep a sustainable system in balance there is a lot to evaluate. Just because there are pests out there doesn’t necessarily mean that you call out the machines and blast them away. Many people think that farmers are always spraying for pests but more often than not, my weekly inspections of farmers’ fields do not call for any spraying at all. When I am checking a field I am actually counting the pests, looking at any damage they may be doing and deciding if the pest populations and the amount of damage they are doing are something the farmer can live with. Using the tools of Integrated Pest Management there are bug traps , sweep nets (like kids use to catch butterflies) , counting pests on a certain number of leaves or fruit, all to take a sample of what is there, how much damage if going on, what kinds of natural control may be going on and how much the situation has changed since the last check. Sounds complicated? Well it is. That is why there are trained, licensed people out there checking and evaluating what is going on. Decisions are made based on what is going on in the field, is the damage beginning to get to the point the crop yield is going to be economically damaged? Are the natural controls going to be able to keep the pests in check or is there something that can be done to augment that system? Many times sprays can be used to knock down the pest levels to a point where natural control can take over and balance is restored. Pest sprays are not meant to completely clean out the entire natural system. When used responsibility they can help farmers grow our food safely and with very low environmental impacts.